Not to compare apples to oranges, but finding the perfect meal plan is a little bit like finding your soulmate. If you play your cards right, you’ll land on one that fits you and your lifestyle perfectly!
Don’t get it twisted, though: the perfect meal plan isn’t about to just show up out of nowhere to woo you like your favorite romcom lead. Life isn’t like the movies, and sometimes you gotta work to get what you need. So, ask yourself some tough questions: “What is my weight goal? Do I want to maintain my current weight, lose a few pounds, or gain some? What do I want?”
Once you’ve figured all of that out, you have to delve into the next phase of your meal plan journey: determining your calorie needs.
COUNTING CALORIES FOR YOUR MEAL PLAN
But first, let’s take a deep dive into calories.
This word gets thrown around so often, usually surrounded by a buzz of negativity. Like, “Oh, sorry, I can’t have that—it has too many calories.” But calories aren’t the enemy here! Believe it or not, getting cozy with calorie-counting is all part of healthy and sustainable weight loss.
Simply put, calories are just a measure of energy. It’s the amount of energy released when your body digests food. The more calories you take in, the more energy you expend. That’s not inherently a bad thing, unless you eat more than what your body needs.
When you overeat (AKA going over the amount of calories your body can burn off), that’s when you store all of that extra as dreaded body fat. If you’re looking to shed pounds, the equation goes: more activity + less calories = success.
When your body absorbs calories consistent with the amount it needs, your metabolism gets a boost. The higher your metabolic rate, the more calories you burn, the easier it is to lose weight overall. With us so far?
HOW TO DETERMINE YOUR CALORIE NEEDS
Now, let’s talk daily caloric needs.
The average woman needs to consume about 2,000 calories a day to maintain her weight, and 1,500 calories per day to lose one pound a week. On the other hand, the average man needs 2,500 calories per day to also maintain, and 2,000 to lose.
For those looking to gain weight, 700-1,000 calories daily is the recommended amount you should add to your meals
However, it’s always best to know exactly what YOUR body needs. These figures are averages, so one size most definitely doesn’t fit all. First, determine your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) to know the calories you should bee consuming. Just plug in all your basic information (age, gender, weight, height, physical activity) into this handy calculator to get the number you should be aiming for.
HOW TO PUT TOGETHER THE PERFECT MEAL PLAN
Armed with your BMR, you can get into planning your meals.
Take the average woman looking to lose weight. That leaves us with a baseline of 1,500/day. How does that break down into balanced meals?
It’s best to distribute this sum across your three main meals. This means allocating 500 calories for breakfast, another 500 for lunch, and the last 500 for dinner. Sounds doable, right? If you’re the mid-afternoon snacking type, you can even cut your third meal in half to make room for an extra snack.
The beauty of meal plans is they’re highly customizable! After all, they should fit as snugly as they can into your day-to-day life. If you prefer a heavy breakfast and a light dinner, just add more calories to the former and shrink the latter. It’s entirely up to you and your needs.
A good thing to keep in mind when you’re just beginning to flex your calorie-counting muscles is to be diligent in checking nutrition information. There are plenty of useful calorie-counting apps out there (not to mention all your favorite search engines!) that can help make it whole a lot easier.
WHAT DOES A HEALTHY MEAL PLAN LOOK LIKE?
Need examples? Here’s what you can expect from a typical tasty and well-balanced meal plan. Everything at just 1,500 total calories a day!
Salsa scrambled eggs
TIP: You can even add two tablespoons of chia seeds to your smoothies and oats for a convenient dose of healthy fats. That’s just an extra 137 calories! (Worth it!)
TRY: Caramba Tomato Salsa, P120, Arrowhead Mills Organic Oatmeal Instant Hot Cereal (10oz), P355, The Green Tummy Chia Seeds (350g), P370, The Superfood Grocer Superfood StarterPack 4-Piece Set, P695
under 500 calories
Roasted chicken breast with veggies
Avocado toast with eggs and greens
Chickpea salad bowl
TIP: For salads, opt for olive oil-based dressings. Not only do they have a lot of flavor, they also pack more nutrients per calorie compared to their creamier counterparts.
TRY: Whisk Salad Dressing Gift Set, P467, Spectrum Extra Virgin Olive Oil, P1,005
under 200 calories
TIP: Be sure to keep your pantry well-stocked with nutritious snacks, especially if you’re the type who craves midday fuel. Without healthy options, you’re more likely to reach for the bad stuff!
TRY: Healthy Munch Raw Almonds (100g), P160, Take Root Kale Chips Vegan Cheeze Flavor, P220, The Green Tummy Organic Dried Goji Berries (140g), P269, Coco Dolce 65% Dark Chocolate (100g), P220, Wholly Grain Sorghum Grains (2kg), P162
under 500 calories
Protein-packed quinoa bowl
Vegetable stir fry over brown rice
Mushroom soup with whole-wheat bread
TIP: Listen to your body! Some people could go without dinner altogether, while others would need a filling meal to cap off their busy day. Figure out what works for you and plan accordingly.
TRY: The Green Tummy Quinoa (350g), P360, Fresh Start Organics Red Rice (2kg), P331, Imagine Organic Potato Leek Creamy Soup (32oz), P265
See, it’s not so bad—especially when you remember it’s not about starving yourself. If you focus on picking nourishing foods that will fill you up and keep you energized, you’ll never, ever have to go hungry.
There are hundreds of creative and yummy ways to transform your current diet into a lower calorie one. With a little discipline, research, and lots of patience, you’ll be your own #fitspiration in no time! Remember: a truly perfect meal plan should get you enough nutritionally-dense calories for your weight loss goals while satisfying your tastebuds, too!
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